From the ALPS to the AELP Conference…

It was a slightly surreal experience switching from riding some of the toughest cols in the Alps over the last weekend, to exhibiting, networking and listening at the AELP conference. Some reflections as we wait for the train North.

The Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) appears institutionally immune to the feedback and insight of both its customers and service providers. Millwall’s ‘everyone hates us and we don’t care’ springs to mind. I’m struggling to think of another public service market in which the notional commissioner treats the key market actors with an attitude bordering on contempt. One wonder’s if Boris Johnson’s F*** Business was not a slip of the tongue, but unwritten government policy.

To be honest, it’s only a surprise that Chris Grayling hasn’t got something to do with the botched reforms, given the blunderbust nature of the changes; the lack of informed reasoning; the poor engagement with the market; and the frustration of every major stakeholder in the room. It is something when Ofsted is being hailed as a voice of reason in the chaos – although credit where it’s due as Paul Joyce of Ofsted did deliver probably the most well-thought-through presentation of the two days.

Some positives are the progress in devolved areas – with AEB being tendered in the Autumn (probably October); that creative new providers are emerging with different delivery models (LearnBox are a great example); that the new inspection framework will be evolution not revolution. There is also impressive advocacy and leadership being shown by AELP itself, with Mark Dawe providing a strong voice for the sector, and also through innovative membership services like the recently launched online assessor course.

As with Brexit, one can’t help thinking that sense must prevail – but sense and today’s skills commissioning overlords appear to be strangers in need of an introduction. Let us hope that next year’s AELP conference reflects on a year of progress rather than frustration.